We love our smartphones, but it’s a little disturbing to think that it’s sitting in our pockets and abusing our trust – violating our privacy. It’s not the first time we’ve heard of apps sending our personal data to outside parties without our consent, but it seems like it’s happening on a grander scale than previously thought.
When you download an application, there may be notifications or disclaimers telling you that you’re allowing the app access to your personal information. Some apps need to access your contacts or device ID and other personal information in order to function – especially social networking apps or location-based services. But what are these apps doing with our data besides what’s required for the app to properly function?
According to a recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal, several apps send our private data to third parties in order to create more detailed profiles of just who we really are.
An examination of 101 popular smartphone “apps”—games and other software applications for iPhone and Android phones—showed that 56 transmitted the phone’s unique device ID to other companies without users’ awareness or consent. Forty-seven apps transmitted the phone’s location in some way. Five sent age, gender and other personal details to outsiders.
While it’s hard to say just how damaging this can be to users, what’s most disturbing is that we’re unaware this is happening. Moreover, it seems that there is little to nothing we can do to determine when it’s happening and how to limit that sort of activity.
Perhaps this new finding will spark a trend in more detailed disclaimers or privacy policies, which most apps don’t currently have and aren’t required to provide.
Here is something a little upsetting about iPhone app privacy:
Apple says iPhone apps “cannot transmit data about a user without obtaining the user’s prior permission and providing the user with access to information about how and where the data will be used.” Many apps tested by the Journal appeared to violate that rule, by sending a user’s location to ad networks, without informing users. Apple declines to discuss how it interprets or enforces the policy.
Until rules are made a little more clear and the way our data is being handled becomes more transparent, we’re just going to have to settle with this violation of privacy if we want to keep using the apps we enjoy. The only other viable alternative at the moment is to not use those apps at all – the problem with that being our love of the apps and the fact that we don’t know which ones are the culprits.
How do you feel about this? Is it a necessary evil in order to improve social networking and advertising? Or is this crossing the line? For more details on this story, see the link to the Wall Street Journal below.